Last weekend, for the first time in recent memory, the University of Maine men’s hockey team earned a road sweep over a top-5 team.
The Black Bears swept Boston College, ranked fourth in both major Division I polls, 4-3 and 3-2. Both games were decided in overtime.
UMaine, which had been 1-7-1 in Hockey East road play, now plays eight of its last nine Hockey East games — including the next seven — at Alfond Arena, where the Black Bears are 6-0-2.
UMaine is tied for eighth with the University of Connecticut in the league standings and eight of the 11 teams qualify for the tournament.
But the Black Bears (12-9-4 overall, 6-7-2 HE) are only six points out of first place and four points out of second. Teams receive two points for a win and one for a tie.
Six of the remaining nine games are against teams that are tied with or below UMaine in the standings and all six games are in Orono beginning with this week’s Friday-Saturday series against 10th-place Merrimack (6-16-3, 4-8-3 HE). The Black Bears then entertain Northeastern (13-7-2, 7-6-1) for a Feb. 7 game before playing two games each against UConn (9-12-4, 6-7-2) and Vermont (3-16-4, 0-12-2).
UMaine finishes with a game at Providence and a home game with Providence on successive weekends.
UMaine head coach Red Gendron and his players were pleased with the sweep at BC but are looking ahead to the Merrimack series.
“I understand people want to talk about what happened last weekend but, for us, we got four points and now we need to prepare for this weekend. That has been the message for the team and it has certainly been the message for myself,” Gendron said.
Senior right wing Patrick Shea, who scored Saturday night’s game-winner, said the sweep supplied momentum and confidence, but they can’t become complacent.
“We can’t get too high like we did in the past … after the New Hampshire series for example. We got a little bit too high and went on a bad streak. We know what we have to do to win,” Shea said.
After UMaine swept UNH Nov. 15-16 at home, the Black Bears went 1-5-1 in their next seven games, all on the road.
“It was a good four points. But we’re still out of a playoff spot right now,” senior left wing and captain Mitch Fossier said. “Everything is so tight. I don’t like the fact that our name isn’t in the top eight or even higher.”
Fossier said it is clear that if UMaine plays well, they’re a really good team. But he cautioned that playing at home guarantees nothing.
“Every game is going to be a battle. And if we don’t show up, teams are going to come in here and take points,” he said.
Fossier hopes the BC series will serve as a reminder of what it’s going to take for the Black Bears to keep winning.
“We have to continue to have the same compete level, enthusiasm and energy,” he said.
The Black Bears said at this point of the season, there is added intensity because of what is riding on the outcome.
“It’s playoff hockey now. Every point matters,” junior defenseman Cam Spicer said.
UMaine is 4-1-1 in its last six games. The offensive catalysts have been linemates Fossier, senior center Tim Doherty and junior right wing Eduards Tralmaks.
Shea took Tralmaks’ place with Fossier and Doherty against BC because Tralmaks was nursing a shoulder injury and wound up playing on the third line with A.J. Drobot and Ryan Smith.
Fossier has posted three goals and eight assists in his last five games and Doherty has 5 goals and 5 assists amid a five-game points streak. Tralmaks has 2 goals and 4 assists in his last four and goalie Jeremy Swayman has a 2.33 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage in his last six games.
Fossier ranks second in the country with 25 assists and is tied for third in assists per game (1.00). Swayman’s .934 save percentage ranks sixth, while UMaine has the nation’s seventh-best penalty-killing percentage (.869).